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Faces capture the visuospatial attention of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes): evidence from a cueing experiment

Masaki Tomonaga and Tomoko Imura

Faces, as socially relevant stimuli, readily capture human visuospatial attention. Although faces also play important roles in the social lives of chimpanzees, the closest living species to humans, the way in which faces are attentionally processed remains unclear from a comparative-cognitive perspective. In the present study, three young chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) were tested with a simple manual response task in which various kinds of photographs, including faces as non-informative cues, were followed by a target. When the target appeared at the location that had been occupied by the face immediately before target onset, response times were significantly faster than when the target appeared at the opposite location that had been by the other object. Such an advantage was not observed when a photograph of a banana was paired with the other object. Furthermore, this attentional capture was also observed when upright human faces were presented, indicating that this effect is not limited to own-species faces. On the contrary, when the participants were tested with inverted chimpanzee faces, this effect was rather weakened, suggesting the specificity to upright faces. Conclusion Chimpanzee's visuospatial attention was easily captured by the face stimuli. This effect was face specific and stronger for upright faces than inverted. These results are consistent with those from typically developing humans.

Frontiers in Zoology 2009, 6:14 doi:10.1186/1742-9994-6-14 Published: 23 July 2009


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